Books: Pretentious Literature about Pretentious Literature

At least, that's what I've managed to understand from the first 28 pages of Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot. So don't hold me to it because I've barely read any of the book. But even just starting, so many things pop out at me, reminding me why I seldom read contemporary "literature." (Love old stuff. But anything after about 1950, with a few exceptions, is a no for me.)

So The Marriage Plot is, thus far, about Madeleine Hanna, who in 1982 is about to graduate from Brown University. That alone [Ivy League setting] is worth one Pretentious Point. That she calls her parents Daddy and Mummy . . . Two more Pretentious Points. That Eugenides insists on referring to Madeleine's parents as Phyllida and Alton? Double points because of his using their first names and giving them such pretentious first names. Also, Madeleine's friend Mitchell Grammaticus. Yeah, what is he, a gladiator? Another point for that one.

Madeleine's manufactured angst over (a) having broken up with her boyfriend Leonard—and let me just add that no college girl has ever dated a guy named Leonard and felt any amount of serious affection for him; Leo, yes, Leonard or Lenny, no, not even in 1982—and (b) not being sure what to do with herself after graduation . . . Sigh. With all the pretentious buildup around her, to have the story boil down to this is rather rote. And being that her parents have money anyway, and her mother has suggested she could move home, I'm not sure where Madeleine's problem really lies. Sure, no one wants to move home after college. And Madeleine is mourning the fact she was supposed to be moving to the Cape with Leonard. But not having met Leonard (well, only just having met him in one of Madeleine's classes—remember, I'm only on page 28), it's hard to feel sorry for her because as a reader, I don't know what she's lost. A guy with a really awful name, maybe. Or a sweet house on the Cape, I guess, but I haven't seen that either, so I don't know. ::shrug::

And now I'm stuck with Madeleine in some lit crit classes that are apparently early, literature-based versions of all the film studies classes I took back at uni. So I know all that pretentious shit because I waded through it with the usual spectrum of professors—the Marxists; the one crazy guy trying to sell his own new angle (it was called "omniphasim" and I have no idea if it ever went anywhere); the professor who ran his class like it was an afternoon talk show, running through the aisles with a microphone . . . I didn't buy all of what was put in front of me, but I'll say it was all interesting in one way or another, fun stuff to chew over at the coffee houses (sometimes in French when we wanted to be pretentious). It's the kind of environment where you're led to believe things like "the silent agenda in non-narrative television" might really matter. Except when you get out into the world, it doesn't. Or maybe it does, but not in any way that can get you a job.

Anyway. As for The Marriage Plot, I'll continue reading for now, partly because I have nothing else to read at the moment, and partly to see how many points it can accumulate before I can't stand it any longer.

1 comment:

M said...

For the curious: I made it to page 98 of the book before giving up.